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The lockdown Apostille scam
Over lockdown, everything slowed down and became more difficult. Document legalisation services, which can be longwinded at the best of times, were severely delayed. It caused a lot of frustration for a lot of people who needed their documents done ASAP, and the knock on effects are still impacting people to this day. As a result, rather than using a trusted Apostille service like Vital Consular, some people are turning to cut-price, quicker alternatives.
We had one woman, who we’ll call Ruth, come to us shortly after lockdown. She’d been told that she needed to legalise her documents for a residence permit for her move overseas, and she just wanted it done as quickly and cheaply as possible. She’d jumped on Google, searched for a legalisation service, and gone for the cheapest one.
If you don’t know, legalisation involves a series of verifications and stamps from official government departments. It means UK documents can be legally recognised in foreign countries. This can include (but isn’t limited to) solicitor certification and an Apostille stamp. This customer had paid for those two services – but when she’d received her documents, she thought they looked a bit suspect. She did a bit more research, found us, and asked for our professional advice.
The service she’d used promised ‘digital certification’ in as little as 30 minutes. Already, alarm bells were ringing for us. We did some investigating, and noticed that as well as ‘digital’ certification, the company were advertising Apostilles at a third of the cost of those from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and promising they’d be delivered in an impossibly quick time-frame.
Ruth didn’t know anything about document legalisation – she just wanted a cheap, convenient solution. The service sounded perfect for her. Unfortunately, though, it was a scam. In this blog I’ll explain why and how you can recognise a legit Apostille service in the future.
Getting a document certified by a solicitor – how it should be done
A certified document actually means a certified copy of the original. You take your original document to a registered solicitor or notary public. They take a photocopy of it and then add their official stamp to the photocopy, as well as signing a declaration that they’ve seen the document in person. If they haven’t seen the document in person, it’s fraudulent.
So the whole notion of a ‘digital certification’ just doesn’t make sense. The fact that they offer it as a service is a pretty clear sign that their Apostille service isn’t legit.
For a solicitor to be able to certify a copy of a document as being a true copy of the original, he or she would need to see the original document first.
Typically the solicitor would make a copy of the original document, or if a copy had already been made would compare that with the original before certifying the copy as being ‘a true copy of the original’.
Solicitor and Director of Kingswell Watts Solicitors
Just so you know, in some cases a certified copy won’t be accepted. In the UK, this includes personal documents, such as:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Adoption certificates
- Death certificates
If you need any of these documents Apostilled, only the original document can be processed. You don’t need to worry about the certification stage because you won’t need to do it.
Understanding how document certification works, it’s pretty clear that the website the customer used was dodgy. But she wasn’t to know that – why would she? She just wanted to get her legalisation done quickly and cheaply, and unfortunately it stung her. Don’t get stung yourself.
How do I know if my Apostille is legitimate?
Document legalisation is all about getting something called an Apostille. They’re issued from members of the Hague Apostille Convention (currently over 110 countries). They’ve all signed an agreement that they’ll accept documents from each other on the strength of an Apostille alone – they won’t require any further legalisation.
Different countries have different departments that issue Apostilles. France, for example, allow the local courts to issue them. Australia have several big governmental departments charged with the responsibility. In the UK, we have the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). It’s the only department with the authority to issue Apostilles in the UK – as stated on the Hague Convention website.
That doesn’t mean that you have to go directly to the FCDO yourself to make sure your Apostille is real, though. In fact, using an agent like Vital Consular to legalise your documents is probably the best thing you can do. We’ll save you a lot of time, effort and stress.
But, for arguments sake, lets say you don’t use us and you use another online Apostille service. How do you know if the Apostille they give you is legitimate or not?
Is the Apostille printed on the document or attached separately?
A paper Apostille is always a tangible, physical document. If it’s not an e-Apostille, it can’t be issued digitally. Photocopies of the Apostille won’t be accepted, and although you might hear it referred to as an ‘Apostille stamp’, it’s not actually stamped on to your document – it’s a small, separate piece of paper attached to the back.
What’s on the Apostille itself?
There are always 10 set pieces of information listed on Apostilles, wherever they’re from. The solicitor who certified the document, or the registrar who signed your certificate will be noted, as well as the date and signature of the FCDO employee who issues it.
Are there are security features on the Apostille?
There’s a little FCDO seal on the bottom left hand corner of the Apostille – that seal will be embossed through your document and the Apostille to make sure the Apostille can’t be taken off and stuck on something else.
Is there any official way I can check is my Apostille is real?
Yep, there’s a page dedicated to it on the government website. You’ll just need the date the Apostille was issued and the reference number on it. If you’ve checked your Apostille and you’ve just found out it isn’t valid, you can get in touch with us here.
So, are Apostille services legit?
It depends on the company you use. Look out for websites offering online ‘digital’ certification and Apostilles like the one that stung Ruth. She didn’t know anything about document legalisation, so she didn’t know what to be wary of.
The website she’d used tried a few shady tactics to look legitimate, but when we looked deeper we could see the red flags – for example, there was no registered business information, address or contact details. They’re legal requirements for companies in the UK, and the fact they were missing says it all. Just make sure you research any company you use before you use them, and if you can’t find any information steer clear. A legitimate Apostille service won’t have anything to hide – here’s some information about us!
Ruth was smart in the end – she came to us. We were able to get her documents processed quickly and legitimately through the proper channels with a 100% Acceptance Guarantee, so it did have a happy ending for her. When you use a legitimate Apostille service like Vital Consular, it’ll make document legalisation an absolute breeze.
I’ll give you an example. The general public can only apply for an Apostille by post. In busy periods it can take the FCDO several weeks to process your documents and get them back to you. Being a registered agent at the FCDO, though, we can legalise your documents the same day using their in-person business counter.
It’s within walking distance of our London Hub – our London based legalisation office. If you can get your documents to us, either by sending them through the post or by popping into our London office, we can get them done for you!
If you want to get your documents legalised correctly, you’ll need to do things the traditional way. There aren’t any shortcuts. If you’re unfortunate enough to have your documents handled by a scam company, you could find yourself facing major complications:
- Delays while you start your certification and legalisation from scratch
- Further costs having to have them re-processed correctly
- If you’ve travelled with the documents, you could be stuck overseas with documents which are useless
- You could end up in hot water if your documents were required for important business or a legal process
Don’t risk using questionable legalisation companies if they offer you seemingly too-good-to-be-true deals. Not all Apostille services are legit, and if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Now, if you want your documents legalised correctly and efficiently on the first go, use Vital Consular. We’re document legalisation specialists, registered with the FCDO. We’ve been around for over a decade, getting documents legalised daily. We’ve got a fantastic reputation and loads of reviews from our previous customers – you can check them out here. Don’t risk using dodgy, cut-price companies.
If you’re unsure what you need, or whether your existing legalisation is genuine, just get in touch with our friendly team who will be more than happy to help. Feel free to leave a comment, get in touch via WhatsApp, or use our live chat system. We’re here to help you through the legalisation process, and we don’t want you falling victim to scammers.
There’s always someone out there looking to capitalise when things get difficult. This is a perfect example. The wait times caused by COVID lockdowns created a perfect opportunity for scammers to prey on people’s frustrations by offering cheap, convenient, but fake services.
When you’re having your documents legalised, always research things properly and stick to the official guidelines – there are no shortcuts. It’ll help you avoid delays, it’ll stop you from losing your money and maybe even worse if your paperwork isn’t valid. Always find a well-established and trustworthy source to help you with your legalisation.